Publishers fail to stem tide of illicit ResearchGate uploads

Berlin-based academic network faces court action in US and Germany, and lost more than €12 million (£10.7 million) in 2017, accounts show

June 21, 2019
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Publishers say that tens of thousands of copyright-infringing research papers are still being uploaded to the online academic network ResearchGate every month, making it easier for universities to ditch their journal subscription contacts because so many articles are now available for free.

Since October 2017, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, which includes Wiley, Elsevier and Oxford University Press, have tried to pressure ResearchGate into taking down what they say are millions of copyrighted articles on the platform, including launching legal action in the US and Germany.

But their latest report shows that since then, close to 1 million copyright-infringing articles have been uploaded to ResearchGate, an average of 58,000 a month.

“We still have very serious issues with ResearchGate, they are still taking no responsibility for the content they are uploading,” said James Milne, the coalition’s chair. “They should not act in this fast and loose way,” he added.

The proliferation of free-to-read articles on ResearchGate is now beginning to weaken publishers’ negotiating hand when trying to strike new deals with universities, Dr Milne acknowledged.

In Europe in particular, university consortia have in recent years struck a much more assertive line with publishers over cost and open access – Germany’s consortium is currently without a contract with Elsevier, for example – in part because librarians believe that academics can access free papers through sites such as ResearchGate.

“We know that our sales teams do have veiled threats that [academic] material is available in portals that don’t respect copyright,” Dr Milne said.

The coalition wants ResearchGate to install an automatic pre-screening system that stops copyrighted papers from ever being uploaded. Currently, their members have to send individual takedown notices after the event – more than 400,000 have been sent since it was formed – but this was a “temporary” and “unsatisfying” solution, said Dr Milne.

Not all publishers are at loggerheads with ResearchGate. In March, the Berlin-based company announced a pilot with Springer Nature to publish articles in certain Nature journals on academics’ ResearchGate profiles.

Since its foundation in 2008, ResearchGate has received close to $90 million (£70.9 million) in funding from venture capitalists and other investors including the Wellcome Trust and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, according to the investment database Crunchbase. It now boasts 15 million users, and claims to be used by half of all life scientists.

But the firm’s most recently released financial results show that in 2017, its losses grew to €12.4 million (£11 million), up from €10.7 million in 2016 and €6.2 million in 2015. The company declined to comment on the latest Coalition for Responsible Sharing report, released on 13 June, or its financial results.

It is unclear when the legal challenge from coalition members in the US and Germany will conclude. But Dr Milne added: “It would surprise us in a great way if they didn’t go our way.”

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

I very much doubt that a library would rely on ReseachGate for access to articles knowing that so many (according to the publishers) are there illegally and so liable to be taken down at any time.
Why do people wishing to protect their copyright always seem to think it is someone else's job to do it for them? Has the 'Coalition for Responsible Sharing' offered to pay ResearchGate for the additional processing they'd like them to do? Or do they expect this service for free?
This Times Higher Education article is claiming that because papers are on ResearchGate then libraries can cancel subscriptions: "Publishers say that tens of thousands of copyright-infringing research papers are still being uploaded to the online academic network ResearchGate every month, making it easier for universities to ditch their journal subscription contacts [sic] because so many articles are now available for free. <…> In Europe in particular, university consortia have in recent years struck a much more assertive line with publishers over cost and open access – Germany’s consortium is currently without a contract with Elsevier, for example – in part because librarians believe that academics can access free papers through sites such as ResearchGate." The problem is there is NO causal arrow between material being online somewhere and library subscriptions. The link that second quote goes to is this article "German and Swedish libraries shrug off Elsevier shutdown" - https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/german-and-swedish-libraries-shrug-elsevier-shutdown which refers to: "Swedish libraries are able to get around the blockage through inter-library loans – borrowing papers from libraries that still have access, for example those abroad. “So long as inter-library loan is an option, I see no problem,” said David Lawrence, director of Linköping University library. <...> Wilhelm Widmark, director of Stockholm University library, said that he had not yet received many requests for loans, and suspected instead that scholars were sharing articles. “We haven't had any complaints yet,” he said. “We have only received some feedback from researchers who support our cancellation.” " So we are led to assume that: 1. The ’suspicion’ of the Stockholm library that scholars are sharing articles 2. Means they are using ResearchGate 3. And librarians are cancelling subscriptions as a result This is the kind of rubbish non- ‘evidence’ that keeps getting trotted out. It is the ‘justification' publishers use for the "green open access equals cancellations” argument that they need embargoes to maintain ’sustainability’ (read profit). Note the British Academy’s own 2014 finding that “libraries for the most part thought that embargoes for author-accepted manuscripts had little effect on their acquisition policies” and that any real cancellation issue was “the rising cost of journals at a time of budgetary constraint for libraries. If that continues, journals will be cancelled anyway, whether posted manuscripts are available or not.” https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/BRIJ1622_British%20Academy%20Open_Access_Journals_Report_WEB.pdf I brought this issue of lack of evidence up in (Oct 2015) "Half-life is half the story” https://unlockingresearch-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=331 The issue with embargoes is that as repository manager, libraries spend an inordinate amount of time managing them - see the decision trees in this blog: 'Open Access policy, procedure & process at Cambridge’ https://unlockingresearch-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=1613 This represents even more expenditure that libraries make (in the form of staff time) to publishers. In addition, introducing or increasing embargo periods is a very effective method of encouraging funded authors to select a paid-for open access option. (see "Flipping journals or filling pockets? Publisher manipulation of OA policies” https://unlockingresearch-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=1726) The way libraries make decisions about subscriptions are complex and tied into the academic community expectations, not just for themselves but also for their students. I absolutely agree the whole approach needs some serious addressing. But making the decision to cancel a subscription simply because a publisher gives permission for authors to make their AAM available without an embargo would be very poor management. Even with the strongest policy environment in the world. the UK is still not collecting all of its research output in repositories, and the rest of the world lags considerably behind. Many large universities in the US don’t even have a repository. The amount of material of a given journal (let along all of the journals of a given publisher) available in multiple repositories is unlikely to be close to full coverage. So the whole argument for imposing embargoes falls apart very quickly. I should make the point that ResearchGate does not make any effort to ensure embargoes are observed. The Times Higher Education publishing a story like this that implies the decision making by libraries make cancellation decisions because work is available in ResearchGate (which is an even less reliable source of material than university repositores given the commercial underpinning of ResearchGate and the risk at any moment that they will monetise access, particularly if there were situations where organisations were relying on it for access) is speculative at best. At worst it is simply playing the commercial publishers tune. Dr Danny Kingsley, Scholarly Communication Consultant

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